After he screws up with a major client, advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) knows that there is only one way to ease the pain: By getting utterly and completely plastered. He does this, but after falling asleep in the streets, he somehow finds himself trapped inside of a cellar, disguised as a hotel room. Doucett is obviously bewildered as to what the hell is going on, why and who is doing this to him, but all of those thoughts get thrown to the side once he finds out, via the television in his room, that his wife was raped and murder, allegedly by him, leaving his three-year-old daughter an orphan. Doucett has know idea what the hell to do with his life, but after several attempts at trying to get out “the easy way” he decides that he wants to live and continue to train his mind, body, soul and hatch out a plan to escape. However, he wakes up one random day in a box out in the middle of nowhere, with only a phone, a couple thousands dollars and some clue as to where to go. From there, he’s told that he must find the man who did this to him, but also, find out why this happened to him. The results, as you may suspect, are utterly shocking.
Oh yeah, and a hammer does come into play at one point or another.
Everybody’s been awaiting this moment, and here it finally is: The American-made remake of the near-perfect, 2003 Park Chan-wook South Korean flick, and as you could expect, people will be furious. I was too, not just because there were actual ideas of a remake being talked about, but that they were actually being pursued and were even touched by the likes of Will Smith and Steven Spielberg. Yes, I know that they are two very talented guys in the business and would have done all that they could to make this piece of film work, but I highly doubt that their sensibilities (especially the former’s) would have done justice to the original tale. But time went on and once Spike Lee got attached to the flick, I felt like maybe, just maybe there’s something to see here; and lord, being a huge Spike Lee fan (of his movies, that is), I definitely went in with some happy and hopeful expectations. I expected it not to be as good as the original, but I still expected it to hold some weight on its own, considering that Lee is one of the most important, most original directors we’ve had the pleasure of being graced with in the past two decades.
And you know what? That’s pretty much what I got, except with some disappointment.
Most peeps are going to be pissed about this movie and already write it off as “useless”, “unneeded and just plain “stupid. And to be honest, none of those words of slander are wrong, nor are they right. They are simply just fans of the original’s mind-sets going in, but knowing that this isn’t going to be word-for-word, shot-for-shot exactly like that movie going in before-hand, definitely helps you know what to expect and where to be surprised by, as it sure as hell helped me out to get through this flick. Well that, and being a huge fan of Spike Lee’s directional-skills.
While there definitely isn’t the constant trademarks we usually see from Lee in this flick (with the exception of a near-two second infamous “dolly shot”), there’s still that dour, sad feel we usually get to see and feel from his movies. The original tale of Oldboy is not a very pretty one, and with every chance he gets, Lee never forgets to remind us of this. The violence is bloody, in-our-faces and definitely quick like it needed to be, however, it’s never gratuitous and gives us the impression that Lee wants to stick to his guns with the original, while also not letting-go of what made it such a fun time to begin with. And although he did screw-up the all-mighty, all-known “hammer sequence”, I’ll still give him a pass because he gives us an American-made remake that doesn’t feel like a cash-grab, and more of something along the lines where an original auteur wanted to try his hand at mainstream films once again. The results may not be as spectacular as they were with his last “big” flick, Inside Man, but they are still interesting nonetheless.
But that’s when the problems with this remake do begin to arise. Once Lee has to put his mind on the story, how it develops over time, why and whether or not it totally invests us in all that’s happening, it kinds of screws up and loses some tension. Granted, I’ve seen this story happen before, so obviously mind was a bit turned-off to some of the twists here and there that may be shocking to newcomers, but even then, when Lee decides to change the story up-around a bit, something still didn’t feel right. We get this whole new back-story as to why this is happening and the mystery in which our main characters go out to discover the truth, actually becomes something rather conventional and unexciting, which isn’t because I knew what was going to happen, it’s just because there was nothing really all that interesting surrounding it. It was just a bunch of people hiding, running around and looking for clues, but in all-too-serious matter, as if Holmes and Watson needed to be called to the scene, and pronto!
See, while the original wasn’t necessarily a comedy that made light of the situation that this dude was imprisoned, alienated, framed for murder and sent back out into the wild after all of these years, there were still moments where you could tell that the creator wasn’t taking himself too seriously, only when needed. And it worked, to great-effect because it gave us something that knew the type of audience it was going to please, and didn’t try to steer-away from them one bit. Here, it felt like Lee needed a dash, or hell, even a sprinkle of some lightness to go around, rather than just making this a very deep, dark and depressing affair, with barely any signs of hope or happiness involved. May sound like a weird complaint, I know, but some smudges of light would have went a real, REAL long way.
The cast Lee chose may not be the heaviest-hitters out there in the world today, and they sure as hell aren’t the household names the producers probably intended on originally having, but with whom they have, they made the best out of it, especially even in the smaller roles. But playing the biggest role of all is James Brolin as Joe Doucett, the type of despicable human-being you learn to hate in the first couple minutes, then begin to actually like as time slightly goes on. Brolin’s good at keeping Doucett’s heart and humanity well in place, but he can only go so far with that when all the guy wants is to get revenge on the man that ruined his life, while also trying to find his daughter. The rugged look and persona that Brolin has, does well for Doucett when he has to throw-down and get his hands a little bloody, however, I never quite felt as bad for this guy as I did for Hwang Jo-yoon’s portrayal in the first one. Some of that may have to do with the fact that Brolin’s character has barely any little-to-no personality once he gets out of captivity, or that he looks like he could take on anybody and anyone with his quarterback-shoulders, but overall, I just didn’t feel as attached to Doucett as I should have. I felt bad for him, but I was never rooting him on, which is a little weird for a revenge-thriller.
The one real improvement in terms of characters from the original is with Elizabeth Olsen as the young, sweet-natured, but damaged girl that falls for Doucett, just as soon as she meets him once he’s roaming around the free world. Olsen’s a good actress, so she definitely has that going for her, but also, the character feels a lot better-written this time around, making her more of a “person”, and less than just a “fantasy-image” that most older dudes seem to have for ladies half of their ages. Nope, she’s actually a sad, hurt and wounded bird, just looking for a nest to settle into and be sheltered by and she may have found that with Doucett. Michael Imperoli shows up as Chucky, Doucett’s old buddy from awhile ago and does a nice job portraying the type of guy that’d be there for his friend, even after all of these years has gone by, but begins to seem like a bit of an unbelievable dick, just as time goes on.
Last, but certainly not least though, we have Sharlto Copley as Adrian Pryce, the crazy Brit who has put Doucett through all of these problems to begin with, and only wants to prolong them some more. Copley’s a very interesting talent as he shows up in certain movies, and you can almost never pin-point down, exactly where the hell you’ve seen him from before and whether or not he’s played the same character twice. Basically, he’s the type of versatile actor modern-day flicks need nowadays, and he does a stellar job giving us the sick and twisted, but passionate individual Adrian Pryce. While the portrayal and development for Yoo Ji-tae’s character in the original was a bit better, Copley does all that he can with this character and gives us a menacing figure, that never feels like he isn’t capable of taking control, however he wants, at any given time. Same could be said for Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as one of Pryce’s most-trusted lackeys, Chaney, except that he definitely says “motherfucker” a lot more. Not than just Pryce, but more than anybody else in this flick. But then again, I think we’ve all come to expect that by now and we love it!
Consensus: No doubt in my mind is telling me that this Oldboy remake isn’t better than the original, however, my mind is also telling me that if you are at all interested with seeing how it turns out, given all of the talent involved, then you should definitely give it a go since it’s better than expected, with a couple of questionable choices here and there.
7 / 10 = Rental!!